Friday, April 30, 2010

Retirement day one

I’ve been officially retired for one day now. The party yesterday and all the Facebook congratulations have been overwhelming.

I’ve also gotten a lot of teasing about retiring for the second time.

So, I need to set the record straight on that. Returning to Northrop Grumman 7-1/2 years ago as a full-time employee after being retired for 7-1/2 years really helped save my life. I had been working all along – sometimes from home and otherwise traveling great distances by car to do my fundraising job. The work was sporadic and all that driving was hard. Plus it didn’t give me enough social interaction to keep my mind off the suicide death of my oldest son. I needed full immersion and going back to working proposals full time provided that. I had to get up at a certain time everyday, I had to shower and dress in business attire everyday rather than lolligag is PJs, and I had the opportunity to work with lots of people. Also, the job itself left me no time to wallow in my grief. From the minute I came back on board I was consumed with the business of working on teams to produce documents that had to be delivered on time every time. And, putting myself into that pressure cooker was the best thing I could have done to enable me to withstand the sadness in my life. Even returning as a contractor wasn’t enough. I needed to have the assurance that I would have that pressure day in and day out for as long as I needed it.

When I finally decided two months ago that enough is enough – after all I’m going on 70 years old – I still had the feeling that leaving my job could be very risky. If I let myself I could easily go back to the wallowing. Even so, I decided I had to do it. I want some time for myself and with my husband. We are going to travel, and I have books and poems to write. An almost 24/7 job just doesn’t support that. Plus, how many years could I continue at that pace at my age? I’m still willing to go back as a contractor but not on a full time basis.

Now that it’s almost 11 years since my boy’s death, I think I’m strong enough to get along without the full-time job crutch. I think I know how to defend against falling back into the wallowing. And, I’m sure the diversions I’ve assigned myself will help. So, for you teasers out there, please know I certainly didn’t plan it this way. I never thought when I retired in 1995 that I’d ever hire back in. But, life is full of surprises – some good and some not so good. I’ll not get into that now. That would only bring on the wallowing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bitter Sweet

Two more days to go. I’ve almost cleared everything out of my office. I took the last pictures to my car and gave away the last of the documents to be saved to the librarian. This office that I’ve worked in for over six years is almost bare.

The little cubby, in homage to its previous occupant, Adele, is still filled with a few of her things. But, I’ve taken the things I want to remember her by. And, now that so many of the things of hers and mine are now out of here I  feel the bitter sweetness of my departure.

After I rejoined the company in 2003 - the year of her death - I asked for her office right away, but it took about a year for anyone to open her door and dare to disturb what she had left in there. Of course while she was still alive she dictated how some of her papers and books would be distributed – she actually had a excel spreadsheet documenting what was on each of her shelves, and she designated whom would get what. However, by the time I got the office – about 6 months after she died – there were still hordes of her stuff still there – including about five extra pieces of office furniture. Right away I gave a huge amount to the library, threw some away, and then kept the remainder on the same shelves she had them on and in the same notebooks. I also cleared out the extra furniture and rearranged what was left. It was a grueling thing to do. I also felt so badly about disturbing her stuff.

What drew me to Adele was her creativity. While she was well we went to art exhibits together from time to time. She always knew where the most unusual exhibits were. And then after she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer she decided to go immediately into hospice – bypassing any kind of chemotherapy the doctors might have offered her. I admire her for that. She dictated how she would live and how she would die. And, it was certain she didn’t want to endure the debilitating effects of chemo. She was able to sit up in her hospital bed, entertain her friends – insisting they make an appointment to see her so she could use the time she had left only seeing those who mattered to her, pursue some of the art projects she still had the strength to do – little book marks and postage stamp sized collages, and plan her death. She read a little though she didn’t want to tackle lengthy books. I brought her books of poetry. Once in a while she’d even listen to something I wrote.

So, leaving this office where she and I spent so many years is tough. Yet, I’ve integrated her into my home as well. I have a photo of her in our bedroom – on the same table with other family pictures, including Paul’s. Her photo stands just under the collage we bought directly from her. We also have the collage we received from her collection the night of the party we held in her memory. It’s in the family room. And I’ll add the piece she made for us after Paul died to my office wall. So Adele will still be with me. Does this sound morbid? Perhaps. But I’m a believer in keeping memories alive.

What I find is the most bitter sweet about my leaving this room is that whoever takes it over won’t know or care about the person Adele who once inhabited it. The department has so few of the people left who worked with her. Really that’s a good thing. Change is good and to be expected. Yet, what she gave to this department and this company was so special, she deserves to be remembered. Unfortunately, I’m probably the last one here who made sure that happened.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Retirement countdown

In less that a week I'll be unemployed. Scary but at the same time envigorating. I was in a nail shop at noon getting a quickie walk-in manicure, and I marveled at the women relaxing in those big chairs with the tubs with two people working on them -- one on their hands and one on their feet. And I thought that by this time next week I could relax in one of those chairs as long as I want. But, of course I won't. I've already created so many projects for myself that I wouldn't know how to fit in free time if I had to. My sister says I'll be foot loose and fancy free (now where did that term come from?), and I had to laugh. Moi? No that would never describe me.

So, with less than one work week to go I've almost completed my office demolition. I've filled up almost four barrel-size trash bags, I carted another huge amount of papers to our library, I've taken home four cartons of stuff, and I've thrown out mercilessly. So, what's left ? My paintings and my person toiletry items and probably a few little odds and ends. Also, I have just a few more work folders to got through. I'll give away or leave the rest here.

I feel like the judge on those reality shows: Is it in or is it out? Mostly I've been saying OUT and that feels good! 

I also have to complete three tasks: presenting the first draft of the website I've been working on since last November to the VP who owns the website, finish updating the proposal products I'm responsible for, and appearing on a Women's History Month panel to discuss what it was like working in the company back in the dark ages.

And, then it's party time. Instead of a lunch, I persuaded my boss to let me have a late afternoon dessert open house and invite other people in the company besides my department colleagues.
Yay! What a way to go!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

No more new poems published here

Because of the possibility that posting can make a poem considered "published" in the eyes of some publishers, I have decided not to post anymore poems on my blogs. And that could very well cause the end of my blogging career since so much of what I post are my new poems.

I guess I’ll have to be more creative about what to blog in the future, i.e., only published poems, career and family news, and reports about what I did on my summer vacation. Or I’ll need to go back to the original premise of “Choices” – my bucket list and confine my Red Room blog to posts about my writing progress and insights.

I can’t even post my poem a day challenge poems to that website for fear of being rejected from having those poems published in the future.

I really am very much discouraged to find that so many calls for poetry submissions preclude poems posted on the web – including those posted on personal blogs which to me is not really publishing.

But, here is a typical submission guideline in that respect:
“Previously published manuscripts, including works that have appeared online (in any form), will not be considered.”

I’m thrilled when one of my poems is accepted for publication in anything other than my blogs, so I must abide by these guidelines. I don’t want anymore of my poems precluded from future publication.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And still more April poems

Prompt 9 – write a self-portrait poem. Other artists study themselves to create compositions (not all of them exactly flattering either), so it is only natural that poets, who are word artists, write self-portrait poems from time to time. In fact, some poets make self-portrait poetry "their main thing." For at least today, make it yours.


I have a portrait in the attic
I call Dorianna
and it shows
how I at age 70 should look.
Dorianna has deep ridges around her mouth
lines embedded across her forehead
and jowls that hang over the waddle
under her chin
while I masquerade through my life
with almost lineless skin
smooth and soft to the touch.
I have nary a sag
Yes, even my boobs still perk up
While my portrait’s body
has a belly that rolls over her lap,
and hanging kimono arms.
What a shame she hasn’t
benefitted from my healthy diet
of berries, greens, and lean meats.
From the looks of her,
the poor thing doesn’t even know
what the word workout means.

Still every so often I climb those stairs
and visit Dorianna just to make sure
she is only a portrait
and not the real thing.

Prompt 10 – write a horror poem. Make it scary. Make it cheesy. Make it funny. Whatever you do link it somehow to horror. Who knows? Maybe someone will write the next great raven poem.

The Horror of It All

On Holocaust Remembrance Day 2010
I think about 29 miners
dead in a West Virginia mine disaster,
90 people including
most of the Polish government,
killed in a airplane crash,
and all the children sexually abused by priests
who have found ways to protect one another
from being punished for their transgressions.
And, just this week
I read about other young children
as young as 11
killing themselves because
they couldn’t withstand
their bullying classmates.
This is the 21st century, folks!
Let’s put a stop to the
the harms and crimes
against humanity
that stain our lives
now and forever.

Prompt 11 – take the phrase "The Last (blank)," replace the blank with a word or phrase, make that the title of your poem, and then, write the poem. Some examples: "The Last Train," "The Last Kiss," "The Last Time I'll Give Directions to a Complete Stranger," "The Last Dance," etc.

The Last Cigarette

I smoked my last cigarette
46 years ago
thanks to my ex husband.
He stood in front of the door
I needed to pass through
to get my after-dinner cigarette.
You don’t need it,
he said.

Some wives don’t have a lot of good
memories about their exes.
I am lucky.
I remember that
mine probably saved my life
when he prevented me
from smoking that last cigarette.

Prompt 12 – pick a city, make that the title of your poem, and write a poem. Your poem can praise or belittle the city. Your poem could be about the city or about the people of the city. Your poem could even have seemingly nothing to do with the city. But the simple act of picking a city will set the mood (to a certain degree), so choose wisely.


I never knew any hog butchers
or steel makers as Sandburg
liked to tout in his poem
about Chicago.
I just remember the Lake
and the Art Institute
and the Museum of Science and Institute
and seeing plays at the Goodman Theater
while I was growing up there.
I’m going back for a few days this spring.
I’ll be sure to look for the hogs.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More April poems a day

Prompt 3 – For today's prompt, take the phrase "Partly (blank)," replace the blank with a word or phrase, make that the title of your poem, and then write the poem. For instance, your poem might be titled "Partly Cloudy," "Partly Crazy," "Partly Out of Touch," or whatever.

Partly Fine
As we walk along the beach
I ask how you are.
You say,
“Fine, I’m doing fine.”
Later on I offer to get the car,
but you refuse.
You want to keep moving on.

Yet when we get home
at the end of our 4-mile trudge
to the beach and back
I ask again.
Your response this time is
“It was too much for me,”
and you go in for a nap.

Prompt 7 – take the phrase "Until (blank)," replace the blank with a word or phrase, make the new phrase the title of your poem, and write the poem. Possibilities include: "Until we meet again," "Until tomorrow," "Until monkeys fly out my butt," or even "Until blank" (why not?).

Until Your Dad Gets Home
Remember your mom saying
those very same words?
I think all moms do.
It’s their way to get the kids to behave.
But pretty soon they get on to her.
They know that when Dad gets home
he’s much too tired to straighten up
the messes she’s made throughout the day.
He’ll just send those unruly kids
to their rooms to wait
until he’s through reading the paper
for the spanking
that will never come.

Prompt 8 – pick a tool, make that the title of your poem, and write your poem. There are the more obvious tools, of course: hammer, screwdriver, wrench, etc. But there also less obvious tools and/or specialized tools available as well. Before attacking this poem, you may want to just think about the various possibilities first. Or just write.

My Tweezers
I know it’s ghoulish,
but I couldn’t live without
my eyebrow tweezers
and the opportunity to pluck
the stray hairs that grow
willy-nilly above my eyes
and mouth.
My husband calls any kind
of primping plucking.
“Enough plucking,” he says
and then he goes upstairs
and has another sip of wine,
knowing full well that his nagging
has no effect
on my getting ready any faster.
He’s resigned himself
to patiently wait,
Chardonnay in hand
as I pluck away.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A new poetic form

I don't usually pay much attention to poetic forms, but this one was part of the PAD prompt to: Write an ekphrastic poem. According to John Drury's The Poetry Dictionary, ekphrastic poetry is "Poetry that imitates, describes, critiques, dramatizes, reflects upon, or otherwise responds to a work of nonliterary art, especially the visual." The prompt came with two pictures to choose from. Here's the one I chose:

And here's my ekphrastic poem:

One forgets about the
orange and yellow leaves
of Autumn falling
on dry brush,
and takes no notice
of black clouds preceding
the first Winter storm
when a lithe beauty runs by
as if she is a new Spring bloom.

(inspired by Pocahontas, by Annie Leibovitz)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Riding it out OR how not to panic during an earthquake

Yesterday afternoon while I was sitting at my desk writing and answering my little great niece’s on-line, “Hi, Auntie,” greeting my house began to roll. I immediately knew I was experiencing an earthquake though I didn’t think I was in any immediate danger. Yet this one was different. The roll kept rolling and rolling and rolling. I didn’t hear anything crashing down from the shelves, I didn’t feel any strong impacts or shakes, I just felt a soft steady roll that lasted almost a minute. When I wrote my niece that an earthquake is happening right now, she asked if I was okay. And aside from the dizzy feeling I always get during an earthquake I was okay. And, I just sat there riding it out. I kept my hands in my lap, looked out my bay window into my garden, and, I got a very calm – almost eerie – feeling.

My office is on the ground floor of our house and I knew my husband was somewhere on the second or third levels. I didn’t hear a sound from him. I didn’t hear a sound anywhere. The only evidence of the quake beside what I was feeling was that the water in the bowl of my little outside fountain was gently waving, though not enough to splash over the rim.

And then all was still. I got up and found my husband. He had been in the shower and didn’t feel a thing. In fact, he turned on the TV to make sure what I had felt was actually an earthquake.

Believe me I know an earthquake when I feel it. I experienced both Northridge and Landers. In fact, I saw the aftershocks of Landers rolling in as the ground buckled. Now that was scary. The one I felt yesterday wasn’t scary for me, but we live over a hundred miles or more from the epicenter. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in Calexico and Mexicali yesterday. The folks there felt the full brunt of a 7.2 quake. That is not a soft steady roll. That is a mean old long shake. That is more than dizzy. That is full panic. That is the kind of thing that scares people out of California forever. I feel lucky. I still feel safe living here. I don’t feel the need to move anytime soon – until the next one.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

April poetry month again

Here's my first April poem though I don't promise a poem a day like last year. My Friday Prompt writing group suggested we write about seasonings. Old Bay more than covers it. Plus, if you look carefully, you'll find a great recipe.

Old Bay

One morning minding my own business
on the stair stepper
the guy stepping next to me started to tell me
about the marvelous meat loaf he made
for dinner the night before.
Marvelous is not the way
I’d ever describe meatloaf
but since I’ve always liked it
I asked the question he was waiting to hear,
“How do you make your meatloaf?”
“Well,” he said, as he slowed down his step speed,
“I take two pounds of ground meat and mix it up
with an egg, two pieces of torn sour dough bread,
1 jar of salsa, salt and pepper, and lots of Old Bay.
Then put it in a loaf pan and bake for 1 hour at 375.
That’s it.”
Well, I was intrigued
and unbelievably kept the recipe in my head
through my entire workout
until I got to the store.
I bought the ground meat, the salsa,
the bread – no I had the bread at home.
The only thing that stumped me was the Old Bay.
I had never heard of it, let alone use it.
But, sure enough I found it with the herbs and spices.
I just now googled it to find out its ingredients,
and it turns out Old Bay is quite an institution
in the seafood world.
It’s been around for 70 years.
So, in case you’re wondering,
Old Bay is mix of:
salt, celery seeds, mustard,
red pepper, black pepper, bay leaves,
cloves, pimento, ginger, mace, cardamom,
cinnamon, and paprika.

And boy did it punch up that meat loaf !